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The following is an excerpted and slightly edited version of my reply to a thread entitled "Why do people like RPGs?" on the Penny Arcade forums. I didn't get many responses (except for someone claiming that "the core mechanic [of an RPG] should be actual role-playing"), so I'm reposting it here. I'm interested to hear the thoughts of the (many) game design-literate folks who read this LiveJournal. Am I completely off-base? Can I refine this idea somehow? I feel like my basic thesis is right, but that I'm not quite capturing all of the particulars.

Read more... )


Aug. 21st, 2008 03:05 am
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Does this bother anyone else? Does it bother anyone else that Michael Phelps looks like H. P. Lovecraft?

I mean, it's all there. The big ears. Fleshy nose-tip. Thin lips, the lower of which seems to be stuffed with cotton or something? That look: blankly staring into the distance. They could be brothers... or father and son?

Phelps'...affinity...for the water is quite suggestive. His "official" biography states that he is from Baltimore, MD, widely believed to be a likely "regrouping" point for the Esoteric Order of Dagon after their community at Innsmouth was destroyed by the U.S. Treasury Department in 1927. Can there be any doubt, then, that Phelps is the latest--and most "perfected"--in a line of amphibious monstrosities resulting from the union of humans and Deep Ones? Sure, he has obtained an amount of gold from the Olympics, but is it not possible that some portion thereof was brought from Y'ha-nthlei, the cyclopian city deep beneath the waves?
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I would like to tell you the story of how "Heart of Glass" let me down.

I knew the song only through a late night television commercial for some random "Greatest Hits" collection. You know the commercial, or at least its kind: two or three seconds of a dozen music videos or so, mashed together in sequence, all played behind scrolling text that recounts the names of the songs in the collection (with the currently playing song highlighted). This isn't the exact one, but it's very similar. "$22.95 for two CDs, or $19.95 for two cassettes. Call now!" I was probably eleven or twelve or so when I first saw it.

The excerpt of "Heart of Glass" in the commercial was the opening four measures of the first verse ("Once I had a love, it was a gas/Soon turned out had a heart of glass"). Up until recently, these four were the only measures of the song that I had ever heard. I contend that they're four of the most evocative measures in contemporary pop music.

It all starts with Debbie Harry's nonchalant delivery—simultaneously crystalline and mumbled, it recapitulates the subject matter of the lyric from both sides. The vocal processing (just a chorus effect, I guess) and the synth warbling and the blinking lights in the background of the video all convinced me that this, this was the music of the future, even if it was from 1979. (This impression was possibly influenced by the similarity of the song's name to the Heart of Gold. I didn't know jack about pop music at the time, but I'd read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.)

There's also the fact that Debbie Harry's face filling the frame like a newscaster is undeniably transfixing, and that little jerk of the head that she does while singing "glass" is... weird. I don't know why she did that. Is something wrong?

Read more... )
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Who's making a CGA-era PC Zelda clone for TIGSource's Bootleg Demake competition? That would be me.

The above screenshot is taken from DOSBox, running my little DOS program (compiled with Turbo C!). It's just drawing tiles to the screen right now—there's no animation or logic or anything. Just figuring out how to get pixels to the screen in CGA mode was a pretty big task for me. (I, uh, never really did any hardcore DOS programming back in the day.)

Realistically, there's no chance I'll finish this, but I've been having fun getting it this far...
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This past week I participated in 5-in-5, along with a number of current ITP students and recent alumni. The challenge:

Do a creative project every day for five straight days, starting Monday, July 28th 2008

Projects must be completed in a day, so they need to be as compact as they are creative

Each project needs a name and documentation posted by the end of the day. It should be a stand-alone accomplishment

And so I did! It was fun and productive, but surprisingly exhausting. Here are my projects. The links for each day go to more detailed documentation on the 5-in-5.com blog.

Day One: Mega Man Linocut Prints

Also featured in Bre Pettis' overview video.

Day Two: twbasic: BASIC for Twitter

Send your BASIC listing to @twbasic. (It may take a while to respond... for some reason the replies API doesn't like to update very frequently.)

Day Three: Subwoofer Tactics (w/C. Anderson Miller)

A board game powered by a 30-watt subwoofer.

Subwoofer Tactics from Anderson Miller on Vimeo.

Day Four: Strokeweight (a New Interface for Textual Expression)

Translates between "drawing" gestures and "writing" gestures.

Strokeweight: Writing with fruit and Dunsany from Adam Parrish on Vimeo.

Day Five: Binary Telepathy (also with C. Anderson Miller)

I attempted to transmit binary data to eight experimental subjects using only my mind. Of the attempted 64 bits, 36 were correctly divined.

Distribution of Correctness for ESP Transfer

A few of my favorite projects by my fellow 5-in-5ers: Throwing Light, Japanese Family Crests, ZenTV, Flexible Cardboard Surface, and Vikram's honey, lavender and habanero ice cream.

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I drew this for Sabrina earlier today when we were playing Canasta. I drew it because Canasta is kind of boring. I mean, once someone picks up the pile, the round is pretty much over, and the only way to guarantee a pick up is to count the cards, and who wants to count cards all the time? Why not draw a picture of a hamster and a tortoise who are in love instead. That's my take on the situation.
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From footnote 17 to Lovecraft's The Horror at Red Hook (Penguin Classics), excerpted from Lovecraft's correspondence. He's describing one of his neighbors, from when he lived here.
[O]nce a Syrian had the room next to mine and played eldritch and whining monotones on a strange bagpipe which made me dream ghoulish and incredible things of crypts under Baghdad and limitless corridors of Eblis beneath the moon-cursed ruins of Iskatar.

Blatant racism? Plum-purple prose? Random imaginary place names? Lovecraft himself provided us the perfect template for mocking him. God bless you, H.P., wherever you are...
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I made a game for the TIGSource Procedural Generation Competition. It's called Legend of the Tomb of Fate, and you can download it here: Python source for Mac/Linux or Windows executable. There's a little bit of discussion about the game happening on the TIGSource forums.

I've posted more information here, but here's the basic gist: it's an old school BBS door-style RPG (think Legend of the Red Dragon meets Etrian Odyssey) in which almost all the content is procedurally generated: enemies, weapons, armor, elemental affinities, and so forth. They're all generated randomly as you play, so no two playthroughs are the same. There are lots of bugs and unimplemented features, but it's definitely playable (and winnable).

So give it a download and tell me what you think! Here are some screenshots:

Title screen

Battle engine (it r0x0rz y3r s0x0rz)

Procedurally generated elemental affinities
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Penny Arcade? Persona 3? Last 10 levels of Etrian Odyssey? Which should I play?!

(Not to mention Paper Mario GC, Phantom Brave, and Pikmin, all waiting patiently on the shelf...)
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Make: Blog put up a post this morning about APxD (Autonomous Parapoetic Device) (my project that was in the Spring show)! To be fair, they put up posts about pretty much every other damn project in the show too. But I'm still pretty excited.
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I saw Chris Kohler in the Gamestop on Broadway today! I know it was him because he was wearing this shirt. I totally should have asked him about the Yoshi games! That would have been an awkward conversation.

Me: Hey, Chris Kohler. What do you think of those Yoshi games?
Chris: Oh, uh... Yoshi? Yoshi's Island is good, I guess, and they've got that one for the DS...
Me: No, not those Yoshi games.
Chris: ... Yoshi's Cookie?
Me: You know which Yoshi games I'm talking about.
Chris: Get away from me!

Yeah, that would have been awesome.
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NYC-area folks: I'll be presenting Frotzophone (subject of a recent Fiction Circus piece!) at the upcoming meeting of Dorkbot NYC. I'm planning on performing the piece I wrote for the NIME show last December, then giving a brief talk about the tech-related stuff. Also appearing: ShiftSpace and this guy!

Where: Location 1, SoHo
When: Wednesday, April 2nd @ 7pm
Who: Dorks? I guess?

Unrelated, and I'll post about it later: zomg Etrian Odyssey.
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Oh, Skies of Arcadia. You and I have such a complicated history! I bought you almost two years ago, in an attempt to squeeze some role-playing goodness out of my recently purchased GameCube. We breezed together through the first ten hours—remember those sweet days?—and then we got stuck. We got lost in Ixa'taka, and then later above Valua. We didn't even remember what we were looking for, or where we were going. So I took you out of the disc tray, and put you into your box, then onto the shelf.

I had no intention of leaving you there. But, for a long time, I did.

For months and months, in fact. When I sat down with the intention to play a video game, I would look at you on the shelf and ask myself: do I want to spend two hours with you, aimlessly wandering in our airship, waiting for our compass to spin? I would ask myself: Can I, at this point in my life, cope with so many random encounters? The answer, so often, was no.

Then Spring Break of this year arrived and I, having recently exhausted my supply of other games, decided to give you another spin. I'm so glad I did! Once I found that damned Maw of Tartus (or whatever), the story began to pick up, and your charms once again revealed themselves to me. Soon we found ourselves playing for hours at a time. Long hours. Late into the night. Sometimes early into the morning.

These, of course, were hours that would have been better spent in service of my schoolwork, which makes our time together so much more bittersweet. The unflappable protagonist Vyse and his merry band of air pirates, whom I remember now only as my dear friends, may one day soon become my nemeses. In a few weeks, when I present my thesis for all to see, and I'm barely able to fill my allotted time with mumbles and half-assed half truths, your colorful and intricate world (which I explored with the fervor of an addict) will, I'm sure, seem to be nothing more than a Gomorrah of hellish temptation.

So, while I wrested great joy from completing you a few days ago—joy in every way commensurate with the sixty or so hours we spent together over the last two years—most of the pleasure came in the form of relief. I am no longer bound to you! I can trade you away on Goozex! I can once again live the life of a normal man. (At least until your sequel comes out.)

Lengthy musing about SoA's battle system follows. Read at your own risk. )
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kriegspiel screenshot

The game that I've been working on for the past few months has been getting some mainstream gaming blog press recently, so I thought I'd post about it. It's called Kriegspiel, and it's an adaptation of a war game designed by Guy Debord (situationniste extraordinaire). There's no AI, so you have to play with someone else, but there's a good chance you'll find someone waiting in the lobby if you download the game and log in.

It's a surprisingly subtle game, both complex and complicated, and it really benefits from the adaptation to the computer—I don't know how Guy and Alice kept track of movement ranges, sums of attack/defense coefficients, and lines of communication without a computer. (We've debated about whether or not this is a good thing—the game has a completely different tenor when you're playing it on a physical board. It almost becomes more about trying to find your opponent's mistakes, rather than playing strategically. Maybe that's what Debord intended? I dunno.)

My role in the project has mostly been as a programmer, working mainly on the prototype phases of the game (first in Processing, then in OpenGL, then in jMonkeyEngine). Nowadays I'm only putting a few hours a week into it, but it's been rewarding to be a part of the development of an actual, honest-to-god game from start to finish. (Well, it's still in beta. Almost finish.)
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A smelly man at Target sold me Professor Layton and the Curious Village about a week ago. He smelled really bad, like emergency bad, and I've had a moral crisis over the past week wondering if I should have alerted his fellow employees, or his supervisors, or the local health board—anyone in a position to break the news to him gently, to shuffle him off to a shower or, at the very least, a bathroom. It's humiliating to buy video games at Target in the first place, since you have to ask permission to have opened their cabinet of valuable shrinkage-prone products—you have to take on the role of penitent thief—but it's doubly humiliating to point through the glass at what a pungent man in a red shirt calls "oh, you want Curious Valley," then slink behind him to the register at what should have been a safe, odor-free distance, but which wasn't, god help us all. His sticky stink haunted the first few days of my ownership of this game. Just looking at the cover would call forth the scent, and for hours it would flit here and there in my nose, emerging phantom-like from the combination of commonplace aromatic molecules of the household or city. After a few days (mercifully), the pong exorcised itself from my nose and my memory, but I will forever associate Professor Layton with those brief, panicked moments of conviction: that I had been irrevocably tainted.

As for the game itself: it's awesome. I finished it yesterday. And by "finished" I mean finished: 135/135 puzzles, 5000+ picarats (not sure if this is enough to unlock all the bonus content?), maybe I missed a few hint coins somewhere, and the portion of the game available only to owners of the sequel is still, of course, virgin territory, but I think I did a thorough job of putting this baby to bed. I don't think I've ever devoured a DS game with such intensity, not even Phantom Hourglass.

more review after the cut )


Mar. 3rd, 2008 09:55 am
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My thesis uses WebKit as a text-rendering engine. This has a number of advantages that make it worth the effort: easy printing is one, the familiarity of manipulating documents through the DOM is another. The main disadvantage so far is having to do the whole thing in Objective-C with the Cocoa framework. I didn't expect to dislike this combination, but when I sometimes feel like I should just can the whole thing and do it over in Java (!), then you know something must be wrong.

Among the annoyances:
  • We'll start with the most trivial one. Cocoa doesn't have any kind of random number framework—you have to use BSD's random(), and roll your own functions around that. Now, I don't like the way Java does random numbers, but at least its library provides a way of generating random numbers with a Gaussian distribution (which would have been helpful for this project). (Anyone know of a good C library that will do this for me?)
  • Cocoa doesn't have a native regular expressions library either. Yes, I know you can do this with regular C, and I know there are third party frameworks out there to help you do regular expressions in a more Cocoa-ish way, but this still feels like a huge omission to me, especially when NSString has so many other niceties.
  • No garbage collection. Not only that, but the rules about when to use [object retain] and [object release] are weird and cryptic and kind of scary.
  • Cocoa method names are usually needlessly verbose. Whoever chose objectAtIndex as the method to get an object from an indexed collection (instead of, say, get) should have to PAY for all the weird line breaking contortions I have to do in order to make my code neat.

Sure, I'd have garbage collection if I used Objective-C 2.0, and using Python would solve nearly all my problems. I wanted to learn the framework in its native language, though, and more importantly I want all this stuff to work on 10.4 in addition to 10.5. (Also, and most importantly, I don't have Leopard yet.)


Feb. 17th, 2008 04:34 pm
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Sick; sicky sick. What started as a petite cough on Wednesday progressed through somnambulatory achiness on Thursday, on its way toward today's full-out hippie virus music festival (east stage: post-nasal; west stage: my bronchioles). In the meantime I've been too dazed to do real schoolwork, too listless to engage in meaningful leisure activity, and too wound up to sleep. I really should sleep. Sleepy sleep!

Game status updates:
  • Can't make it through Area 5 of Rez. I've tried it about fifty times. Is it just a matter of practice, or is there some trick? (This is the original PS2 Rez, not your fancy-schmancy Rez HD.)
  • I'm about 12 hours into Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, and I'm wondering when it'll start to get fun. It's pretty and everything, but the controls feel haphazard; the game's only real strategy lies in choosing your Espers before each round, which is only kind of fun. It is definitely not nearly as addictive as FFTA. Kind of a shame. Oh, and that stealth level was terrible, absolutely terrible.
  • I played and loved the demo of Immortal Defense, and I'll be picking up the full version when I have some cash to spend on games. Good work, [livejournal.com profile] wynand...

Texty text

Feb. 3rd, 2008 10:57 pm
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February seems to be the official month of doing creative stuff with time constraints. So I'm throwing my hat into the ring. Here's Texty Text, where I have been posting, and will likely continue to post, one "experimental text" per day until the end of the month. It'll mostly be weirdo algorithmic stuff, but you may eventually experience the full brunt of my poetic expressiveness. So be cautious!
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Personal Statement

I'm interested in what happens between a formal representation and the infinite possibilities of every day life (de Certeau calls these "strategies" and "tactics" respectively). In particular, I jam forks in my eyes! It burns, but the goo that issues therefrom is delicious, a sweetness beyond easy comprehension. Let us all challenge the leprechauns of our youth to a knife fight, like that Michael Jackson thing in the Beat It video, a true expression of masculine foresight and an inimitable gesture of holiness. It's like a dormitory, full of tiny gremlins who will not rest, no they will never rest, until all is destroyed.

March 2016

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